A Stated Meeting of the Society was held at No. 25 Beacon Street, Boston, on Wednesday, 21 February, 1900, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Edward Wheelwright, in the chair.
After the Records of the January Meeting had been read, and approved, the Corresponding Secretary reported that letters had been received from the Rev. Edward H. Hall and Mr. John Gorham Palfrey accepting Resident Membership.
Mr. George Parker Winship, a Corresponding Member, was present.
Mr. Henry H. Edes offered the following Minute, which was unanimously adopted by a rising vote: —
The members of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, assembled on the eve of the birthday of Washington, wish to place on record an expression of the sympathy which they felt for their distinguished associate the Honorable Edward J. Phelps, and his family, during his recent severe illness, and of the satisfaction with which they have learned of his convalescence.
The members of the Society embrace this opportunity to give expression to their deep sense of the exalted character of their associate, whose public services, private virtues, and profound learning have received the deserved homage of his countrymen.
Resolved, that an attested copy of this Minute be sent to Mr. Phelps.
The President then said: —
It is my melancholy duty to announce the death of our esteemed associate, the Rev. Edward Griffin Porter, on the fifth of February, at his home in Dorchester, after a very short illness, at the comparatively early age of sixty-three.
He was a very constant attendant at our monthly meetings, at which he often read interesting papers and took an active part in the discussions. At the December Meeting in 1893, in the discussion following the presentation of two documents by Mr. G. Arthur Hilton, he made remarks, in reply to Mr. Abner C. Goodell, Jr., on the so-called Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.
At the April Meeting in 1894, he gave a most interesting account of the events which took place at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, illustrated by a large map which he had prepared of the localities. This account was entirely extemporaneous. At the April Meeting of 1895, he spoke again on the same topic and had announced his intention of continuing his narrative at the April Meeting of the present year, when he should be able to exhibit documents, newly discovered, bearing upon the subject. He had also promised to reduce to writing all that he had said, or should say, on these three occasions in order that the whole might be printed together in our Transactions. His long residence at Lexington, as Pastor of the Hancock Church, had given him abundant opportunity of becoming thoroughly acquainted with the locality and its history.
At the April Meeting of 1895, he also paid a tribute to the memory of our late Vice-President, Leverett Saltonstall. At the Annual Dinner in November, 1897, he made a speech in behalf of the Gould Memorial Fund.
At the December Meeting in 1897, he gave an account of the visit to Boston of Lieutenant-General George Digby Barker, of the British Army, and Governor of Bermuda, whom he accompanied to Bunker Hill and other places of historic interest; he also gave a sketch of the discovery and identification of the Diary of Lieutenant Barker, who was present with the British troops at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, and who proved to be the grandfather of his guest, General Barker.
These are only a few of the papers and remarks contributed to our Transactions by Mr. Porter. He seldom attended a meeting at which he had not something to say, and he said it with an ease and fluency and felicity of expression no less remarkable than his accuracy of statement and his extraordinary memory for facts and dates.
Born in Boston, he took the keenest interest in its ancient history, knew all the lanes and alleys of the old North End, gathered from the oldest residents the history and traditions of its Colonial buildings, private and public, and embodied the results in that delightful book, — through which I first knew him by name, — Rambles in Old Boston.
I first met him on hearing him deliver a lecture, or rather talk, before a social club at a private house, when he gave an account, illustrated by maps, plans and views, of a visit he had made to Alnwick Castle, the residence of the Percy family, — Dukes of Northumberland. This was some years before he joined this Society, perhaps before The Colonial Society of Massachusetts came into existence. The story of his hospitable reception, the permission given him to examine the archives of the family, his discovery of papers concerning the Lord Percy who covered the retreat of the British after Concord Fight, papers which had been previously overlooked, was delightful. He must have made a most favorable impression upon his host, for on his departure the Duke promised him a copy of a portrait of the Lord Percy best known to Americans, and accordingly sent it to him, handsomely framed, after his return to America. Mr. Porter, with the Duke’s approval, presented it to the Town of Lexington, where it may now be seen in the Town Hall.
The loss of Mr. Porter creates a void in our Society which will long be felt. Not by any means an old man, he seemed to have the promise of many years of usefulness before him. He appeared, in fact, younger than he really was. His tall, spare figure, his dark hair, as yet unbleached, his alert, quick motions, betokened a youthful vivacity of body as well as of mind. His genial temperament, his courtesy, unblemished by the least approach to stiffness and never degenerating into undue familiarity, the patience with which he listened, no less than the ease with which he spoke, made him a most agreeable companion.
Mr. Samuel Swett Green spoke at length of his friend and classmate, especially of Mr. Porter’s college life, his genial social qualities, his fondness for society, his love of children, his public spirit, his interest in historical research, and his recondite knowledge of the antiquities of Boston and the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775.
Mr. Robert N. Toppan, also a classmate of Mr. Porter, spoke of his absolute sincerity as one of his most prominent characteristics.
Mr. Toppan then announced the formation of the —
The order was founded in January, 1896, by Miss Mary Cabell Richardson of Covington, Kentucky. The present Governor-General is Mrs. Henrietta Dana Skinner of Detroit, Michigan. There are now eighteen branches, including one in Canada. The Chairman of the Massachusetts branch is Mrs. Prentiss Webster of Lowell.
“The order recognizes as Colonial Governors all persons invested with supreme executive authority in the government of Colonies comprised within the thirteen Colonial States, under whatever title that authority was exercised, and whether derived from the Crown by appointment, from the people by election, from another Governor or from a chartered Company by commission.”
Membership is honorary and by invitation only.
Mr. Worthington C. Ford remarked upon Washington’s views on many public matters and showed how modern some of them were. His canal policy foreshadowed the existing railway system, which connects the Atlantic with the West; and his methods of agriculture anticipated the change which came in Virginia farming after the close of the Revolutionary war. Mr. Ford portrayed Washington as the scientific farmer far in advance of his time. He also made the following communication: —
In determining the economic position and capacity of a nation, the natural environment of the people is of quite as great importance as the artificial, which is itself developed from and largely dependent upon, the natural. A desert may with assiduous care and labor be changed into a garden; latent powers of production may be developed and combined in almost endless variations to serve a useful purpose. But not only must the materials be at hand, — the intelligence to work the change must also be present and actively exerted. The climate, the nature of the soil and relative situation, determine the productiveness of a region, and the labor of man by controlling and directing these agencies, by combining and assimilating forces, may develop almost indefinitely their capacities, producing an economy that would before have seemed impossible.
Such a co-operation of productive factors, resulting in an economic development of almost marvellous rapidity and magnitude, a history of production in the United States would show. An outline, so far as is essential to the purpose of this work, will be here attempted, necessarily imperfect, because subordinated to other ends.
The natural capacities of America were great even under the most imperfect instruments. A writer contemporary with the Revolution, estimated the area of the colonies to be 102,000 square miles, or about the area of the British Isles.679 The English area of settlement at that time extended from the coast of Maine to Georgia, or between 45° and 31° north latitude, but was confined for the most part to a narrow strip of territory along the coast between the ocean and the Appalachian range, where a river supplying ready means of penetrating inland plantations or farms would be found; but few settlements worthy even of the name of town existed in the interior, except where the hostile attitude of the Indians made such an aggregation necessary for defence, or where a peculiarly rich trade with the Indians centred. In either case, these outlying posts were merely stockaded forts. No river penetrated beyond the Blue Ridge range in the South, and none beyond the present western limits of New York in the North; and this constituted another natural restriction upon the area of settlement.
The territory ceded by Great Britain under the definitive treaty of peace in 1783 embraced about 830,000 square miles, of which less than half could be assigned to the original thirteen colonies. Blodget, one of the earliest of American statisticians, estimated that the improved lands in 1774 did not exceed 20,860,000 acres, or less than 33,000 square miles, a small part of the settled area.680 In New England more than one-half of the land was in cultivation in 1790, and in Connecticut scarcely one-tenth remained in a wild state.681 In New York only one-fifth of the country could be said to be improved,682 and in Virginia and Maryland, devoted as they were to the cultivation of a very profitable crop, only about one-tenth could be so designated.683 The insalubrity of the Carolinas, the sparseness of the population, the system of land tenure, the methods of agriculture and the cheapness and abundance of land, offered further obstacles to an intensive and careful cultivation of the soil in the Southern colonies.
The population of the colonies was estimated in 1754 to have been about 1,500,000 souls; at the outbreak of the Revolution it had nearly doubled through immigration and natural increase, and more especially through natural increase. There were few checks to early marriages and the rate of increase was favored in every way. The population more than doubled itself in every twenty-five years, no account being taken of the immigration, which, however, was not large, as the East and West Indies were attracting the larger part of emigrants from European countries.684 The war checked the growth, for in 1790 the population was only 3,929,326, of which nearly 700,000 were slaves.
As the distribution of population did not materially change between 1775 and 1790, the census of the latter year may be taken as a guide. In New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, the predominant “group” was from two to six to the square mile; while another group, from eighteen to forty to the square mile was found chiefly in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia. The coast of Maine was dotted in 1776 with forts, and at the head of the Hudson River, on the highway to Canada, settlements existed. But a line drawn southeast from the foot of Lake Champlain to the head of the Savannah river would include more than what was then the inhabited parts of the British colonies in North America.
The natural conditions which the first colonists from Europe found on the eastern shore of North America, were peculiarly adapted to the foundation and rapid development of a rich and prosperous empire. The climate was nearly the same as that of Europe; the soil when prepared for agriculture was for the most part rich and virgin, for only a small proportion of the Indians had attained the village stage where the tillage of the ground had in a measure superseded the chase.685 From the ocean and rivers the bulk of their food was still obtained. The physical formation of that part of North America which was settled before the Revolution gave a diversity of climate that, taken in connection with the natural qualities of the soil, allowed of a greater variety of crops than was then afforded by Europe. The winters were longer, yet the shorter summer was so nearly like the summer of Europe that all the plants and animals of the older continent could be cultivated and reared on the new continent with almost equal success.
The soil, however, was by no means ready for immediate use. The region north of the Susquehannah had been affected by glacial action (drift), and the resulting soil was of a clayey nature, abounding in stone, difficult to subdue and render fit for continuous cultivation. The face of the country was covered with dense forests which must be cleared before planting could begin, and against which the Indians with their feeble appliances had proved almost powerless. The contest between man and nature was severe and continuous, and the great obstacles to be met and overcome, the limited means for removing them, controlled the course of settlement, and in the beginning rendered the progress of the colonies slow and painful. The poorer soils, narrow strips lying along the banks of rivers and the shore, where cultivation was comparatively easy and access to the ocean ready, were first occupied; and had it not been for maize, a crop that yielded a high return and was more reliable than European cereals, the subsistence needed and obtained in other ways would hardly have proved sufficient to maintain the colonists while engaged in the severer tasks of clearing and subduing the richer lands in the interior. Two months of labor were required to make each acre of this region fitted for effective tillage;686 only in Virginia and Maryland was there found a soil on which a crop could be at once grown.
The colonies may be divided according to their physical characteristics into three classes. In the New England provinces the soil was little adapted for profitable agriculture, furnishing barely sufficient food for its inhabitants. The population found employment in shipping and fishing, developing a carrying trade and a commercial interest which compensated for the comparative niggardliness of nature and formed the peculiar feature of that section of the country at the period of the Revolution. In the middle colonies the soil lent itself more readily to cultivation, and cereals early became an article of export; while in Virginia and Maryland the fertility of the soil and the commercial policy of England made tobacco the most valuable staple of culture and export. To the South, the swamps of the Carolinas, destructive to the white man but capable of being exploited by slave labor, were devoted to rice, and as in the tobacco colonies, imposed upon the people a system of slavery which cramped their growth save in narrow and increasingly unprofitable lines, and frittered away the natural wealth of the land under an economic régime which has never proved successful and never compatible with progress in civilization.
In 1766 Franklin described the body of the people in the colonies as farmers, husbandmen and planters. Agriculture was the chief pursuit of the country; its prosperity and very existence were dependent upon farming; its commerce and relations with other peoples were based upon the products of the soil, and the kindred industry — the fisheries. By agriculture alone could a market be commanded in Britain itself. All else was subordinated to and controlled by the results obtained from the soil.
It was very natural that land should be the chief form of wealth, for it was the most productive agent at hand and that to which all the labor and capital either created and saved within the colonies, or coming to them from Europe, turned for employment. This, said Adam Smith, was the principal cause of the rapid progress of the dependencies to wealth and greatness.687 The terms upon which lands could be obtained were inducements to settlement. In Pennsylvania, where the soil was readily brought into cultivation and where the liberal administrative system offered the most immediate advantages to the immigrant, land could be purchased for £5 a hundred acres, and one penny sterling per acre quitrent. In New York and New Jersey crown lands were sold for fifty cents or one dollar an acre, and the price was about the same in the New England colonies. In the Southern provinces lands were given away in limited tracts to settlers, but could be purchased at almost nominal prices. Eddis said that the rich lands of Maryland could be bought for about seventy-five cents an acre. In 1774, according to Blodget’s estimates, the average price of cultivated land throughout the colonies was two dollars and a half an acre; and of lands in their natural condition, thirty-five cents an acre. Generally speaking, real estate was valued at only seven years’ purchase.688
The abundance and cheapness of good land, and the ease and notoriety with which it was obtained and transferred, rendered the introduction of feudal tenures and feudal ideas of the nature of real property impossible. In the Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company (1628) it was provided that lands should be held “in free and common socage, and not in capite or by knight service;” and before the Province Charter of 1691 was issued, all feudal tenures had been swept away in Great Britain itself.689 Feudal vassalage could not take root in any of the colonies, and leasehold estates were almost totally unknown. The law of primogeniture was recognized in some of the colonies as being agreeable to the law of nature and the dignity of birthright. Rhode Island, though one of the most democratic of the colonies, admitted the systems of entail and primogeniture, as did Virginia, the most aristocratic of the colonies. In some cases primogeniture was not formally abolished until some years after the Revolution,690 while estates tail lingered many years after.
The feature of the land policy of the colonies, by which any immigrant could look forward to owning a portion of the soil and developing its capacities for his own benefit, obviated the occurrence of that narrow dependence on land which in other countries resulted in serfage, tenants adscripti glebœ. The colonists, except when “indented” for a term of years, were free to come and to go, and the absence of restraint exerted a lasting influence upon the domestic economy of the northern and middle colonies. The equal distribution of property in those provinces tended best to encourage the full and free development of economic powers. There was no glaring inequality between rich and poor; the situation was that which pleased Rousseau: no citizen was so rich that he could buy the others, and no one so poor that he might be compelled to sell himself. Burnaby travelled 1200 miles in New England and the Middle colonies without meeting a beggar. Even in Boston, where the profits of a lucrative trade centred, fortunes were moderate, and Burke thought there were not two persons in either Massachusetts or Connecticut who could afford to spend £1000 a year away from their estates.691
The “almost universal mediocrity of fortune” that prevailed in America was regarded as a happy situation, preserving the people from idleness and its consequent errors.692 Most of the people cultivated their own lands, or followed some handicraft or trade, and so nearly every man was a producer. Franklin, in an essay intended to set the true condition of America before intending and too hopeful emigrants from Europe, described it as “the land of labor, and by no means what the English call Lubberland, and the French Pays de Cocagne, where the streets are said to be paved with half peck loaves, the houses tiled with pancakes, and where the fowls fly about ready roasted, crying, Come eat me!” A mere man of quality, he thought, would be despised and disregarded. “The husbandman is in honor there, and even the mechanic, because their employments are useful.”
The general distribution of land tended to a general distribution of political power, for land and power are almost inseparable. The farmer of the colony was a freeholder and had early established his privilege, if not his right, of controlling local concerns.
In describing landholding in America, Story says, —
“The tenants and occupiers are almost universally the proprietors of the soil in fee simple. The estates of a more limited duration are principally those arising from the acts of the law, such as estates in dower and in curtesy. Strictly speaking, therefore, there has never been in this country a dependent peasantry. The yeomanry are absolute masters of the soil on which they tread, and their character has from this circumstance been marked by a jealous watchfulness of their rights, and by a more steady resistance against every encroachment, than can be found among any other people, whose habits and pursuits are less homogeneous and independent, less influenced by personal choice, and more controlled by political circumstances.”693
The Southern colonies were under a very different social régime, and the difference between rich and poor, even apart from landowner and slave, was greater than in the Northern colonies. The opulence of the planters, more apparent than real, contrasted sharply with the poverty of the whites who owned neither land nor slaves, who had no regular occupations, and led a precarious existence. The prevalence of slave labor discouraged the introduction of free labor and of those manual operations which such labor can pursue. The planter was generally deeply in debt. The scarcity of capital, and the large operations of the planter required much capital, induced him to look to English bankers and merchants for his needs. His lands were purchased and cleared with foreign capital; it was with such advances that his slaves were bought, the crop planted, garnered, and finally transported to market. The greater share of the carrying trade was conducted by the capitals of merchants residing in Great Britain, and even the tobacco warehouses in Virginia and Maryland were owned by British factors.694 This did not prevent the planter from seeking to gratify his expensive tastes, for he could mortgage his future crops, and run the risk of failure through a bad crop, a sickness among his slaves, or a failure in the slow machinery of colonial trade, when the English factor might intervene and deprive him of his estate.695
The poor settler was lazy and shiftless, having no interests to subserve and intent only upon satisfying his immediate wants. Among the whites of Virginia Chastellux found the first evidences of poverty he had met. In such a population the habit of saving was undeveloped and real wealth, apart from land and slaves, out of the question. Large plantations, rudely cultivated so as to waste their fertility, costly labor, and spendthrift habits were not elements of success. Adam Smith noted that no such wealthy planters came from the tobacco, as from the sugar colonies. Good management and foresight did amass large fortunes and estates; but regarded as a whole the southern people were poorer than those of New England, in spite of the show and outward glitter their habits induced them to make.
Notwithstanding the almost universal prevalence of agricultural pursuits, there was no systematic study of the science of farming, and the methods employed were, even for that day, slovenly and wasteful. No attention was given to husbanding the benefits of nature, and the settlers were more likely to imitate the Indians in the arts of destruction than in the art of preservation. If a forest was to be cleared, it was burned; or the trees were girdled and left to decay where they stood. A field once cleared was worked into comparative sterility by a succession of the same crops, and no attempt was made to maintain or renew its fertility other than by the rude and partial method of allowing an exhausted field to lie fallow. The original richness of the soil was such that for a number of years crops could be raised from it without impairing its productiveness; and when it showed signs of failing it was cheaper and easier to plough up a new field and abandon the old to regain strength as best it could. The system of cultivation was thus extensive, and not intensive; certain lines of production were worked to the utmost, and while some of the natural advantages of the soil were utilized under such a system, all others were sacrificed. In fact land was too cheap to make even a moderate expenditure in improvements profitable.
The methods of cultivation were nearly the same after as before the war: —
“Unproductive fallows precede crops; after crops, the land is generally given up for a number of years to weeds and poor natural grasses, until it shall come into heart again; the husbandman in the mean while, employing his labors upon his other fields in succession.”696
General Warren said, before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, that a man in America, —
“that farms 150 acres, would think a stock of £100 sufficient. One miserable team, a paltry plough, and everything in the same proportion; three acres of Indian corn which require all the manure he has; as many acres of half-starved English grain from a half cultivated soil, with a spot of potatoes, and a small yard of turnips, complete the round of his tillage, and the whole is conducted perhaps by a man and a boy, and performed in half their time; no manure but the dung from the barn, which, if the heaps were not exposed to be washed away by the winter rains may amount to fifteen or twenty loads; and if they are so exposed, to much less, without any regret to the farmer. All the rest of the farm is allotted for feeding a small stock. A large space must be mowed for a little hay for winter; and a large range for a little feed in summer. Pastures are never manured, and mowing lands seldom; but nothing will give a clearer idea of the different management than the following facts; in England rents are high and labor low; in America it is just the reverse, rents are low and the rate of labor high; yet in England, it would be difficult to find an instance where the labor did not amount to more, and in many instances, to perhaps three times as much as the rents; and in America, as difficult to find as instance where the labor on the farm equalled the rent.”697
While this description applied more especially to the farming of the New England colonies, it would apply also to the general system used in the Southern and Middle colonies, with the possible exception of Pennsylvania.
“There is, perhaps, scarcely any part in America, where farming has been less attended to than in this State [Virginia]. The cultivation of tobacco has been almost the sole object with men of landed property, and consequently a regular course of crops has never been in view. The general custom has been, first to raise a crop of Indian corn (maize), which according to the mode of cultivation, is a good preparation for wheat; then a crop of wheat; after which the ground is respited (except from weeds and every trash that can contribute to its foulness,) for about eighteen months; and so on, alternately, without any dressing, till the land is exhausted; when it is turned out, without being sown with grass seeds, or any method taken to restore it; and another piece is ruined in the same manner. No more cattle are raised than can be supported by lowland meadows, swamps, &c., and the tops and blades of Indian corn; as very few persons have attended to sowing grasses and connecting cattle with their crops. The Indian corn is the chief support of the laborers and horses. Our lands, as mentioned in my first letter to you, were originally very good; but use and abuse have made them quite otherwise.”698
Mitchell also bears witness to the degeneration of lands in the Southern colonies as early as 1767.
“Their lands are so exhausted that they do not produce above a third part of what they used to do. Formerly they made three and four hogsheads of tobacco a share, that is, for every laborer, where they cannot now make one; and they used to have fifty and sixty bushels of corn to an acre of land, where they now reckon twenty a good crop.”699
Burnaby describes the agriculture of the Southern colonies as in a “very low state,”700 and Kalm applies nearly the same words to that of Pennsylvania,701 while he speaks in even more disparaging terms of farming in New Sweden.702
The result was that comparatively small returns were obtained from the land, barely eight or ten bushels of wheat to an acre, when twenty-five was an average yield in England and eighteen in France.703 The cause of this was that —
“the aim of the farmers in this country is, not to make the most they can from the land, which is, or has been cheap, but the most of the labor, which is dear; the consequence of which has been, much ground has been scratched over, and none cultivated or improved as it ought to have been: whereas a farmer in England, where land is dear and labor cheap, finds it his interest to improve and cultivate highly, that he may reap large crops from a small quantity of ground. That the last is the true, and the first an erroneous policy, I will readily grant; but it requires time to conquer bad habits, and hardly anything short of necessity is able to accomplish it. That necessity is approaching by pretty rapid strides.”704
In localities the yield might have been larger. Kalm, at an earlier date, noted that on well prepared land in Pennsylvania, a bushel of rye sowed on an acre of land returned twenty bushels, and the returns from wheat were about the same.705 In New York, from twelve to twenty fold was the rate of return for wheat; but one half-bushel of maize would yield one hundred bushels.706 In Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, fresh lands would give from fifteen to twenty bushels to the acre, the market price of which would generally cover the cost of the land.707
In spite of this wasteful system of culture, the wheat-growers of America possessed decided advantages over those of England, though, as yet, these advantages were not appreciated. Arthur Young proved in his Political Arithmetic that in 1774708 the American farmer, exempt as he was from rents, tithes, and poor rates, and paying comparatively light taxes, could not only supply the West India market with flour more cheaply than could the English farmer, but even exclude the latter from the home markets. Although this was a temporary relation, it was soon to become permanent, for the period of the Revolution marked an important change in the economy of England as regards its food supply. From 1715 to 1765 — a period of fifty years — hardly five years could be found in which the harvest had proved so deficient as to produce a marked influence upon prices; and when compared with former years, prices were uncommonly low. This was the case not only in England, where bounties were paid to encourage the export of grain, but also in France, where imports were encouraged and exports prohibited — a proof that the range of low prices was due to natural and not artificial causes.
This period of plenty and cheapness of food, in which, as the author of the Corn Tracts tells us, bread made of wheat became more generally the food of the laboring people, was followed by ten years of comparative scarcity, due principally to a succession of deficient harvests. So great was the change that government took action, and more than once prohibited the export of grain while allowing its free import, and even paying bounties upon imports. Again was this situation not peculiar to Great Britain, but extended to Ireland and the continent. In England, however, an important change was produced. Heretofore wheat had been an article of export, and had even been sent to the American colonies; it now became an article of import,709 evidence that under existing methods England could no longer be depended upon to supply the food required by its own population.710 Though the colonies were not in a position to take advantage of this change, and did not for more than fifty years, the tendency of England to look to other countries for its food dates from this time. Great Britain thus lost the colonies at the very period when they might have become what they did become half a century later, the granary of Europe.
In the pursuit of agriculture live stock is one of the great essentials, though not so much an essential in colonial times, when the natural fertility of the soil had not been exhausted and the crops could still depend upon the rich vegetable mould, as at a later day, when the exhausted soil requires some artificial stimulus. The live stock of the colonies was meagre and of poor quality, for little attention was paid to its improvement. Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia advanced the belief that the live stock had deteriorated since its introduction from Europe.
“In a thinly peopled country, the spontaneous productions of the forests and waste fields are sufficient to support indifferently the domestic animals of the farmer, with a very little aid from him in the severest and scarcest season. He therefore finds it more convenient to receive them from the hand of nature in that indifferent state, than to keep up their size by a care and nourishment which would cost him much labor” (p. 83).
The use of domestic animals in agriculture was far more common in the Middle colonies than in either the Eastern or the Southern. In the latter slave labor was a substitute, while in New England the tendency appears to have been to use horses instead of cattle, though the greater care and higher quality of food must have made them the more costly instrument and so restricted their employment.711 It was in the neighborhood of Philadelphia that Silas Deane noted the “finest team horses” he had ever seen, though New England exported horses largely. In all the colonies cattle appear to have been neither housed in winter nor tended in summer, and little effort was made to collect and preserve manure. Sheep were raised for farming purposes and also for their wool, and some of the colonies offered special inducements to encourage the keeping of sheep; but these attempts were not regarded with favor in Great Britain, where the many severe restrictions intended to maintain and favor the English wool industry, not only forbade the improvement of colonial stock by prohibiting the export of sheep, but also tended to make the raising of sheep for wool of little profit to the farmer by limiting his market. The policy of the mother country was also calculated to discourage greater attention to the cattle of the colonies. Cattle, alive or dead, could be exported from America to almost any market, but the privilege was little else than an empty name, because, unless salted, meat could not be transported to any distance.712 On the other hand, hides and skins, which were easily transported and merchantable, could only be exported to Great Britain, a market already well supplied, and where a low price only could be obtained.713
Thus agriculture in the colonies was in a very backward state. While farmers in England were introducing better methods and new implements, and improving the breeds of cattle and sheep, those of America, favored by an abundance of fresh soil, were content with the most primitive husbandry. In England a —
“more rational system of cropping now began very generally to supersede the thriftless and barbarous practice of sowing successive crops of corn [wheat] until the land was utterly exhausted, and leaving it foul with weeds, to recover its power by an indefinite period of rest. Green crops, such as turnips, clover and rye-grass began to be alternated with grain crops, and hence the name alternate husbandry, by which this improved system is generally known. The land was now generally rendered clean and mellow by a summer fallow before being sown with clover or grasses.”714
These important improvements had not been carried to the colonies before the war, or for some years after, though they might have been practised in isolated cases. Land was too cheap to justify the expense of alternate crops or manuring, and the implements in use were quite as crude as the methods of farming. The plough generally used had a mould board of wood715 — for those of iron were imported at heavy cost — and could not be pressed into the soil for fear of breakage. On the tobacco plantations the hoe was the chief instrument of culture — a “great clumsy lump of iron” attached to a handle as “thick at the butt as a weaver’s beam.”
In spite of these drawbacks and disadvantages there was evidence of some progress. The experimental stage was past; the climate and soil were better known and their capacities developed so far as the meagre knowledge and experience of the colonists would allow. The plants suited to each description of land had been noted, and the cultivation required to produce a given result had engaged some attention. In transferring animals and plants from the old world to the new costly errors had been made, but the experience gained was of value. When Connecticut sought to raise cotton, or when cinnamon and silk were to be produced under unfavorable conditions, failure could only result, no bounty being able to overcome the hostility of nature.716 These errors and failures did not deter new attempts, and —
“so extensively did these experiments go on, and so completely had they been tried, that not a single species of domestic animal, and but one species of cultivated plant (sorghum), that had been introduced since the Revolution, was of sufficient importance to be enumerated in the census tables.”717
The life of a farmer under such conditions was simple almost to an extreme. He raised the grain and vegetable required by his family and stock; from his cows he obtained milk which could be worked into butter or cheese, both merchantable articles; once a year he killed a bullock or a pig, salting down what was not required for immediate consumption; he raised flax which was worked up in the family into homespun goods, and the wool obtained from his sheep was utilized in the same manner; he knew how to extract the juices from fruits. In each town there would be found a person who, generally a farmer himself, practised in his leisure time some trade like that of a grain miller, a tanner, or a carpenter, his labor being sufficient to meet the wants of the town. In other cases, like that of the shoemaker, the tradesman would visit the various towns, put up at a farmer’s house, and using the leather supplied to him, would, in a few days, make sufficient footwear for a year’s wants. The miller took a part of his flour as pay, and the tanner, after a year’s labor in tanning a hide, retained one-half as his perquisite. The chief articles which the farmer purchased were iron and salt; the surplus product of his farm was sufficient to enable him to buy these, to lay aside a little “hard money,” and to increase his holdings in land. Two or three times a year he would go into the nearest importing town and indulge in a few modest “luxuries” — like a calico gown for his wife, and, as a rule, some rum for himself. Is it strange that many of the vices of the old world should spontaneously disappear under such simple conditions?
The manufactures of the colonies were few and on a scale intended to satisfy local wants, scarcely deserving more than the name of household industry, yet there were the beginnings of an industrial life which required only the proper surroundings to be developed. The usual stimulus was war, which interrupted communication with the mother country and threw the colonies on their own resources. A voyage across the ocean involved from two to four months, and vessels were often so infrequent that the masters, i.e. ships built especially to convey masts to England, were taken by those who wished to reach the other side and to whom no better accommodation presented itself. It was the political troubles of England during the Cromwell rebellion that first led to the construction of ships in New England. For emigration was suspended and the intercourse between parent country and colony so interfered with that their supplies for which they looked to England were well nigh exhausted.
“The general fear,” writes Governor Winthrop in his journal, “of want of foreign commodities, now our money was gone, and that things were like to go well in England, set us to work to provide shipping of our own.”
Every war in which England took part thereafter, led the colonists to add a little to their beginnings of manufacture. During the war with France this tendency to develop their own resources was especially marked, and when the Stamp Act troubles still further increased this tendency, the jealousy of English manufacturers was excited, and an inquiry instituted by the Commissioners of Plantations and Trade into the manufacturing capacity of the colonies. The replies of the colonial governors were nearly in the same strain, — that there were no manufactures of any consequence, — replies, said Franklin, that were “very satisfactory” to England as betokening no danger of competition.718 For example, the Governor of New Jersey reported that there were no woollen or linen manufactures worthy of the name; eight blast furnaces for making pig iron, and forty-two forges for beating out bar iron, beside one slitting mill, one steel furnace and one plating mill, but the last processes were not “carried on with vigor;” and finally a glass house, for making bottles and coarse green glass for windows.719 Very little more had been done in 1774, though a new slitting mill had been erected as an appendage to a grist mill, to evade the prohibition of such mills by Parliament.720 In 1774 Governor Tryon wrote to the Board of Trade that the manufactures of the Province of New York were: the making of pig and bar iron, distillation of rum and spirits, refining of sugar and chocolate from imported sugar and cocoa, the making of soap, candles, hats, shoes, cordage, and cabinet ware, tanning, malting, brewing, and ship-building.721 This was, probably, as comprehensive a list as any other colony could have shown, and even that appears larger than it really was, for the growth of manufactures was checked by the limited market, by the dearness of labor, by the greater advantages offered by agriculture, and by the jealousy and restrictions demanded and imposed by British industrial and mercantile interests.
While the colonies were dependent upon Great Britain there was no such thing as a colonial market. Their geographical structure made them independent of one another, offering an obstacle to a commercial and political union that then seemed almost insuperable. The coast, indented by bays and harbors of refuge, and the navigable rivers piercing the interior regions and offering seats for settlements accessible to the outer world, invited the colonies to trade, but it was to trade with Europe and not among the colonies that the efforts of the Americans and the English were directed. The little commerce that passed among themselves was carried by water. “We never had any interior trade of any importance,” Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia. Land carriage was too costly.722 The roads were badly kept,723 and as the articles to be transported were, as a rule, bulky, they could not be carried far. In Pennsylvania, little favored as it was with navigable rivers, the farmers would come one and two hundred miles on horseback, leading pack horses laden with the goods they were to barter in the nearest market.724 To the interior salt and gunpowder were about the only articles that would bear the cost and trouble of transport. This separation and isolated interests, intensified by commercial policy or social differences, checked the growth of a compact colonial union.
The want of a free and regular interchange of commodities among the colonies has deprived the economist of one of the best of guides — a scale of prices from year to year. As the producer was generally also the immediate consumer, there was little machinery of trade needed. Stated markets, regulated by law, there were; but everything was local, and prices among the rest. Wheat might be selling in one place for a few shillings a bushel; in another locality not one hundred miles distant the inhabitants might be on the verge of starvation. The failure of a crop, the uncertainty of an ocean voyage,725 or a miscalculation in the needs of the market, might force prices to an extreme pitch in either direction, showing on what a little margin beyond their actual wants the colonies were existing.726
Another obstacle to the conduct of manufactures was the dearness of labor. In the South the prevalence of slavery not only rendered hired labor unnecessary but prevented the rise of any industry other than that conducted by slaves. “I am not able to give you the price of labor,” wrote Washington to Young, “as the land is cultivated here wholly by slaves, and the price of labor in the towns is fluctuating, and governed entirely by circumstances.” And Mitchell more fully treated the question: —
“They who estimate the price of labor in the colonies, by the day, do not know what their labor is, and much less the value of it. There is no such thing as day laborers on plantations, and it is inconsistent with the design of them, to admit of any. Day-laborers are only to be found in populous and well improved countries, where they have a variety of employments which afford them a daily subsistence; but as nothing will do that without manufactures, they who would estimate the price of labor in the colonies, by the day, must of course admit of manufactures. But on plantations every one is employed by the year, in order to make a crop, which lasts for a twelvemonth. Now, the wages of such laborers are four or five pounds a year for men, and forty shillings for women, who are the chief manufacturers; this brings the price of labor at a medium to 3l a year, which is but two-pence a day, for every day in the year.727
“The dearness of day-labor in the colonies proceeds from two causes; first, the laborers who are thus employed by the year, in order to make a crop of staple commodities for Britain, and their provisions with it, may lose their whole crop by neglecting it for a few days, and cannot spare a day’s work without losing ten times as much as it is worth, and perhaps their whole year’s subsistence; which is the true cause of the dearness of day labor in the plantations.
“Secondly, if there are any common laborers to be found, who are not engaged by the year, as there seldom are, they cannot find employment for above a few days in a month perhaps; and for that reason, they must have as much for two or three days’ work, as will maintain them for as many weeks; but at the year’s end they have not perhaps earned two-pence a day, for all the wages they may get, which is generally a shilling a day, meaning always sterling cash. Thus the day laborers of the colonies, if there are any, are only the vagrants, and not the laborers of the country; who stroll from place to place without house or home, are clothed in rags, and have not bare necessaries, notwithstanding the supposed high price of their labor.
“About populous towns the case is very different, and labor much dearer; they do not there make the necessaries of life, which enhances the price of labor; they have likewise a variety of employments, and a demand for laborers, who are employed on plantations in the country, and by that means are scarce and dear. Thus we are not to estimate the price of labor from a few towns, as Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, which we only hear of in Britain. These are not plantations, but trading or manufacturing towns, which shall not be inhabited without Tradesmen and Artificers, says the wise man; whose labor is still dearer, because Artists are scarce, and have not constant employment, and so much the better for Britain.”728
The dearness of labor was a result of the higher advantages to be derived from land, to which whatever labor and capital came to the colonies was attracted. “In new colonies,” says Adam Smith, “agriculture either draws hands from all other employments, or keeps them from going to any other employment,”729 and the latter was the case with the American settlements. “The mother country has very little to apprehend from any manufactures in the colonies, while there continues to be plenty of land for the people to settle on as farmers.” That was the assurance of Governor Franklin of New Jersey.730
“Nor is there the smallest reason to expect that manufacturers will be encouraged in Carolina while landed property can be obtained on such easy terms. The cooper, the carpenter, the bricklayer, the shipbuilder and every other artificer and tradesman, after having labored for a few years at their respective employments and purchased a few negroes, commonly retreat to the country and settle tracts of uncultivated land . . . . Even the merchant becomes weary of attending the store and risking his stock on the stormy sea, or in the hands of men where it is often exposed to equal hazards, and therefore collects it as soon as possible and settles a plantation.”731
Scarcity of labor was a condition natural to the plantations; the restrictions and prohibitions dictated by commercial and industrial jealousy were artificial barriers to the growth of the colonies. But this will be best described in connection with the mercantile system and the trade of the colonies.
The institution and maintenance of slavery in the colonies were productive of no less important economic than political results, and for more than seventy years after the Revolution exerted such an overwhelming influence as to be the pivotal factor in American history. One of the results of the treaty of Utrecht was to give to England the trade in slaves for the Spanish colonies for thirty years, and the traffic with the British colonies was encouraged that the vent might be larger and the demand more active. Prior to 1740, said Bancroft, there may have been introduced into the colonies nearly 130,000 slaves; before 1776 the number had more than doubled. Even before the English had secured a monopoly of this infamous traffic the Northern colonists had questioned its utility and morality, while those of the South in later years expressed a doubt whether it was for their interest to have so much labor as to glut the market with the products of slave labor and so lower their profits. But whether guided by a repugnance to a traffic in human beings or by a selfish interest, the colonists were powerless to direct or control the trade, being subject to the will of Great Britain. The trade was profitable to England; for its shipping was encouraged, its manufacturers were admitted to the African market with their products, and the production of the Southern colonies was thereby turned into channels in which it would redound to the greatest advantage to the mother country. No question of morality could be admitted; for the slave trade rested upon trade principles and could not be attacked on moral grounds while commerce was the chief end of its administration.
A broadside circulated at the beginning of the eighteenth century recognized but one evil connected with this traffic, — that it should be a monopoly, exercised by a privileged company.
“It is well known, that the Riches of the Plantations consist in Slaves, by whose strength and labor all their Commodities, as Tobacco, Sugar, Cotton, Indigo, Ginger, &c. are produced; and the more Slaves those Plantations are supplied with, the more Commodities are made, and the stronger they are to defend themselves against any Insults. Neither can there be any more danger of being overstockt with Negroes, than there is that too much Tobacco, Sugar, &c. should be sent to England; for it is a plain consequence, the more Negroes the more Goods will be produced, the more Goods the more Custom paid, and all those Commodities rendered here at home so cheap as will enable this Nation to send them abroad cheap also to the great discouragement of the Plantation Trade of all other Nations. Wherefore it is very plain, that a large supply of negroes will not only bring great Riches to this Kingdom, but will also greatly increase our navigation.”732
At the time this question of free trade or monopoly in the slave trade was being debated in England, Pennsylvania was seeking to abolish the right of holding slaves.
The African Company, in whose hands the slave trade chiefly rested, found little profit in its privileges, being checked by the frequent seizures of its property in America, by the dishonesty of its own agents and servants, and by the opposition of the colonies. In spite of the support of the government, the company was finally glad to relinquish its costly specialty. The colonies more than once sought to crush or discourage the trade, but Great Britain interfered to protect the profits of its traders.
“Great Britain, steadily rejecting every colonial limitation of the slave trade, instructed the governors, on pain of removal, not to give even a temporary assent to such laws; and but a year before the prohibition of the slave trade by the American Congress, in 1776, the Earl of Dartmouth illustrated the tendency of the colonies and the policy of England, by addressing to a colonial agent these memorable words: — ‘We cannot allow the colonies to check, or discourage in any degree, a traffic so beneficial to the nation.’”733
In the slave trade the New England colonies participated. Man stealing was denounced by some as piracy; but the purchase and use of slaves were recognized as legitimate, from a fanatical belief in a sanction of religious conviction.734
“One good old Elder, whose ‘ventures’ on the coast had uniformly turned out well, always returned thanks on the Sunday following the arrival of a slaver in the harbor of Newport, ‘that an overruling Providence had been pleased to bring to this land of freedom another cargo of benighted heathen, to enjoy the blessing of a gospel dispensation.’”735
As the Elect to whom God had joined the heathen for an inheritance, the New Englanders defended a trade which was after all encouraged because of the profit that could be drawn from it. Those colonies further possessed great facilities for engaging in this traffic. Small-sized ships, varying from fifty to two hundred tons burden, were found to be the most profitable, and they cost to build from twenty-four to thirty-four pounds a ton, the builder usually receiving a part of his pay in commodities. The crew was small in number, the running expenses light in comparison with the freight, and the profits large, for it was a double commerce, with the West Indies as well as with England and Africa. Provisions, lumber, horses and rum, were shipped from New England to the West Indies; there a part of the cargo was exchanged for cocoa, indigo, sugar, coffee and molasses; thence the vessel proceeded to England where a further exchange was made for cordage, duck and articles demanded by the African market; in Africa slaves were obtained, and on the homeward voyage a cargo of molasses was brought to New England to be converted into rum. In this way a series of exchanges grew up which employed every movement of the vessel and under favorable conditions made the voyage a succession of advantageous ventures.
The basis of the slave trade, and indeed of New England carrying trade, was rum, in the preparation of which those colonies excelled. In the middle of the eighteenth century it was accounted the “chief manufacture” of Massachusetts, and the “grand support of their trades and fisheries without which they could no longer subsist.” It was a staple article in the Indian trade and the common drink of laborers, lumbermen, and fishermen; it was exported to Guinea to be exchanged for gold and slaves, and finally it enabled the New Englander to barter his “refuse fish” and “low priced horses.”736 On Price’s map of Boston (1733) eight distilleries are marked, and the quantity of spirits made was as surprising as the cheap rate at which it was sold.737
“With this they supply almost all the consumption of our colonies in North America, the Indian trade there, the vast demands of their own and the Newfoundland fisheries, and, in a great measure, those of the African trade; but they are more famous for the quantity and cheapness than for the excellence of their rum.”738
In 1764 a gallon of molasses, costing in the West Indies about thirteen pence per gallon, was quoted in Boston at one shilling and sixpence “out of merchants’ storehouses.” The cost of distilling was five and one-half pence per gallon, and good distillers expected to turn out gallon for gallon, but the average was about ninety-six gallons of rum to every hundred gallons of molasses. In Africa £12 sterling, or one hundred and ten gallons of rum, were considered in 1762 a fair price for a “likely” slave, and he could be sold in the West Indies at prices ranging from twenty to forty pounds, according to the condition of the market. So that after all losses were deducted, and the mortality of slaves on shipboard was great, the return to the adventurer was highly profitable, and the competition keen. Newport, the centre of the trade, had no less than one hundred and twenty ships engaged in the West Indies, African and European commerce.739
To show why the slave trade was encouraged is not to explain its social effects and why the practice of slave holding, at one time general, was gradually confined to the Southern colonies. It was the avarice of adventurers that introduced the system of slave labor; the avarice of English merchants and manufacturers maintained it. The native Indian population was first enslaved by the Spaniards, greedy for gold, and was nearly exterminated by the severe and unremitted toil which devoted them to starvation, disease, and torture. The lands that once supported large populations threatened to become deserts. It was at this juncture that Las Casas, in endeavoring to protect the native population from destruction, framed his scheme of favoring emigration from Spain and of allowing every Spanish resident to import twelve negro slaves. From the islands African slavery spread to the mainland, and about the time the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, the Dutch sold twenty African bondmen at Jamestown, Virginia. It was not long before slaves were held in every colony.
The conditions, however, that made slave labor advantageous were not present in every colony, or the “institution” might have survived in Massachusetts and New York as well as in Virginia and the Carolinas, exerting a dominating influence on the social and political organization. It was because the necessary conditions were absent that the Northern and Middle colonies escaped, and because they were present that the Southern colonies became slave colonies. Origin and climate were not the determining factors; difference in color and in mental and moral capacity widened the gulf between the governing class — the slave holders — and their slaves, but did not account for the presence or absence of slavery. Natural conditions and the physical features of the territory, especially when assisted by local habits and local institutions, account for the difference between North and South, and while in one sense these habits and institutions were a result of slavery, they caused slavery to be maintained long after it had been condemned for moral, political, and economic reasons. Had not Great Britain early devoted Virginia and Maryland to the cultivation of tobacco by forbidding its growth at home and by that regulation afforded a monopoly market for the colonial produce, slavery would not have secured the foothold that it did in those colonies. The colonial pact confined the South to certain staples, tobacco, rice and indigo, which could only be cultivated with profit on a large scale and with an abundance of labor, or which from the methods of culture demanded a constant supply of new labor. But free labor was throughout the colonies high in price and difficult to obtain; so the planters deemed themselves fortunate in being able to command an almost unlimited supply of slave labor, labor that seemed to them cheap. Undoubtedly it was cheap in the beginning. There was an abundance of rich and virgin soil at their disposal, and the wasteful and ignorant methods of slave labor were not felt, almost any labor yielding high returns. The products were all derived from the cultivation of the soil, for which kinds of production slaves were alone adapted, and they were such as would allow of the development of that organization by which the labor of slaves can alone be made of profit to their owners. The law favored large holdings in land, and the local government — the county forming the unit — was a result as well as a surety of the plantation system. Where tobacco, rice and indigo were cultivated on a large scale, slave labor could be employed; but where cereals formed the chief crop, slaves could have no place; they were not needed, they were in the end far too costly for such culture.740 This circumstance brought a system of labor which depended upon slavery into disfavor among the Middle colonies — New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — where other conditions, like an unlimited extent of land and high fertility, would seem to favor it. A single laborer can cultivate twenty acres of corn or wheat, while he would be unable to manage more than two acres of tobacco.741
Even at this early period the evils of slave cultivation were experienced and deplored by the wisest observers. It was admitted that the negro could earn less than a freeman when the results of his toil were measured and compared with the product of free labor.742 He was ignorant, unskilful, indolent, and without adaptation. Hence a culture once introduced under his labor must be continued, for he was incapable of change. Rotation of crops was unknown, and the same culture applied year after year to the soil without any care being taken to maintain its fertility or improve it when impaired, could only result in exhausting the producing capacity of the land. Favored by soil and climate, encouraged by bounties or by a monopoly market, certain lines of production were pushed to an extreme, while all other resources of these colonies were neglected and allowed to go to waste. The results, which made the structure of society “essentially different from any form of social life which has hitherto been known among progressive communities,”743 were not sufficiently marked before the Revolution to come under this survey; they will demand consideration in a later period; but nothing could be more widely divergent than the aims and tendencies of the Northern colonies from those of the South. The free labor of the North was the direct antithesis of the slave labor of the South; in each the returns of production united in one person, but in the one case every inducement was held out to the laborer to exert his capabilities and study the means of increasing his returns, in the other the toil was yielded reluctantly, and extorted from a sense of fear. The farmer of the North obtained for himself all the gain due to his labor, and formed an active unit in the community; the slave of the South was awarded a bare subsistence, was a standing menace to the peace of the community, and all the returns of his industry increased the profits of his master.744 The economic difference arising from these conditions was beyond measurement, and in colonial days the economic aspect of slavery was of far greater importance than the social and political.
Tocqueville has pointed out that the natural conditions of New England were —
“entirely opposed to a territorial aristocracy . . . . To bring that refractory land into cultivation, the constant and interested exertions of the owner himself were necessary; and, when the ground was prepared, its product was found to be insufficient to enrich a master and a farmer at the same time. The land was then naturally broken up into small portions which the proprietor cultivated for himself.”
This influence was made stronger by laws favoring the free purchase and devising of lands, making slave labor the most expensive and consequently the least efficient instrument of production for that region, and practically impossible when brought into direct competition with free labor. Negroes were found throughout New England and the Middle colonies; but the social structure did not rest upon a basis of slave labor, and with the growth of society, the principle of slavery was extinguished.745
Slavery, however, even in the Southern colonies, was not at this time an active and aggressive force, either politically or economically. While each colony recognized the supremacy of Great Britain and held aloof from one another, there was neither the opportunity nor the occasion for political power, nor for the exercise of that peculiar political influence, devoted to the gain of power, which became the marked feature of slave policy in later years. There was no conflict between slave and non-slave States for political supremacy, or for the defence, maintenance, extension or suppression of slavery. The general opinion in every colony was against slavery; it had been tolerated but discountenanced at the North; it was maintained at the South only by the functions imposed on the colonies by the colonial policy of Great Britain. In competition with free labor it had failed at the North; as the basis of a labor system it was being condemned at the South. The Articles of Association adopted by Congress in 1774 bound the signers to import no more slaves, and to strike at the supply of slaves was to strike at slavery itself.746 This action was in alignment with the instructions prepared by Jefferson. “The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies, where it was, unhappily, introduced in their infant state. But previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa.” That the royal veto “preferring the immediate advantage of a few British corsairs to the lasting interests of the American States, and to the rights of human nature,” had repeatedly defeated the attempts of the colonists against this practice, constituted one of the grievances enumerated by the colonies against Parliament and English rule.747 The slave trade was denounced in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, but the passage was omitted in the perfected instrument.748 When Virginia, as a State, enjoyed freedom of political action, the importation of slaves was prohibited in 1778 by a law which the veto of no king could set aside.
The holding of slaves was deprecated more from a moral than an economic motive. Jefferson saw clearly that the morals and industry of the population in slave colonies were suffering.
“With the morals of the people, their industry is also destroyed. For in a warm climate, no man will labor for himself who can make another labor for him. This is so true, that, of the proprietors of slaves, a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor.”749
During the Revolution the inconsistency of fighting for one’s own liberty, while inflicting bondage on another was recognized, and the cause of emancipation gained ground. In 1766 Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina had written: —
“We are a very weak province, a rich growing one, and of as much importance to Great Britain as any upon the continent; and great part of our weakness (though at the same time ’t is part of our riches) consists in having such a number of slaves amongst us . . . . Slavery begets slavery.”750
When Virginia prohibited the trade in slaves, a clause providing for the freedom of the offspring of slaves and deportation after a certain age was considered, but rejected as premature.751 The constitution of no State, North or South, contained the word slave, except that of Delaware. By 1784, slavery had been prohibited or the beginnings of emancipation laid in almost all the States, in one form or another. Such was the position of slavery at the end of the Revolution.
Mr. Albert Matthews then read the following —
As some of the extracts I am about to read, though relating chiefly to the proposed abolition of slavery in Virginia in 1785, refer to Washington, it seemed appropriate to present them at this meeting.
The followers of John Wesley early became prominent as missionaries in this country, and among the most noted of these were Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, from whose writings we get interesting glimpses of the anti-slavery agitation. Bishop Asbury, referring to the Conference at Bristol, England, in 1771, said: —
“Before this, I had felt for half a year strong intimations in my mind that I should visit America; . . . At the Conference it was proposed that some preachers should go over to the American continent. I spoke my mind, and made an offer of myself. It was accepted by Mr. Wesley and others, who judged I had a call.”752
At once Asbury made his preparations, sailed the next month, and for thirteen years wandered up and down the American continent, until, on 14 November, 1784, he records that, to his great joy, he “met those dear men of God, Dr. Coke, and Richard Whatcoat; we were greatly comforted together.”753 On 24 December he rode to Baltimore, where he met a few preachers, and —
“it was agreed to form ourselves into an Episcopal Church, and to have superintendents, elders, and deacons. When the conference was seated, Dr. Coke and myself were unanimously elected to the superintendency of the Church, and my ordination followed, after being previously ordained deacon and elder.”754
On 30 April, 1785, while in Virginia, he says that he —
“found the minds of the people greatly agitated with our rules against slavery, and a proposed petition to the general assembly for the emancipation of the blacks. Colonel — — and Doctor Coke disputed on the subject, and the Colonel used some threats: next day, brother O’Kelly let fly at them, and they were made angry enough; we, however, came off with whole bones, and our business in conference was finished in peace.”755
On 22 May, he continues, “we rode to Alexandria, to meet Dr. Coke,” and on 26 May “we waited on General Washington, who received us very politely, and gave us his opinion against slavery.”756 Later, but while still in Virginia, he relates, under date of 15 November, that —
“our conversation turned upon slavery; the difficulties attending emancipation, and the resentment some of the members of the Virginia legislature expressed against those who favoured a general abolition.”757
These remarks by Asbury form a fitting introduction to the extracts I have now to offer, — those, namely, taken from a book which appears to be little known.758 It is entitled Extracts of the Journals of the Rev. Dr. Coke’s Five Visits to America,759 and was published at London in 1793. The author, Thomas Coke, born in Wales in 1747, a graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, in 1776 came under the influence of John Wesley,760 and in 1784 was urged by Wesley to go to the United States. Coke left England in September, 1784, and reached New York the third of November. At once proceeding south, he made extensive tours in that section of the country; he ordained Asbury, as we have already seen; and on the fifth of April, 1785, he “dared for the first time to bear a public testimony against slavery,” and did “not find that more than one was offended.”761 This calm was of short duration, for on the tenth of April he says: —
“I had now for the first time a very little persecution. The testimony I bore in this place against slave-holding, provoked many of the unawakened to retire out of the barn [in which he was preaching], and to combine together to flog me (so they expressed it) as soon as I came out. A high-headed Lady also went out, and told the rioters (as I was afterwards informed) that she would give fifty pounds, if they would give that little Doctor one hundred lashes. When I came out, they surrounded me, but had only power to talk.”762
Luckily his host, at whose house Coke and his fellow-preachers were obliged, on account of numbers, “to lie three in a bed,” was a justice of the peace, and the rage of the multitude was restrained; though on the following day he narrowly escaped severe treatment, for —
“Here a mob came to meet me with staves and clubs. Their plan, I believe, was to fall upon me as soon as I touched on the subject of slavery. I knew nothing of it till I had done preaching; but not seeing it my duty to touch on the subject here, their scheme was defeated, and they suffered me to pass through them without molestation.”763
Undeterred by these rebuffs, he attended a quarterly meeting in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, 24 and 25 April, and says: —
“Here I bore a public testimony against Slavery, and have found out a method of delivering it without much offence, or at least without causing a tumult: and that is, by first addressing the Negroes in a very pathetic manner on the Duty of Servants to Masters; and then the Whites will receive quietly what I have to say to them.”764
The opposition to slavery was not started by Coke, for action against it had been taken in the Conferences for 1780 and 1783;765 but the stringent rules drawn up in 1784 were very likely due to Coke’s influence. These rules are as follows: —
“Q. 42. What Methods can we take to extirpate Slavery?
“A. We are deeply conscious of the Impropriety of making new Terms of Communion for a religious Society already established, excepting on the most pressing Occasion: and such we esteem the Practice of holding our Fellow-Creatures in Slavery. We view it as contrary to the Golden Law of God on which hang all the Law and the Prophets, and the unalienable Rights of Mankind, as well as every Principle of the Revolution, to hold in the deepest Debasement, in a more abject Slavery than is perhaps to be found in any Part of the World except America, so many Souls that are all capable of the Image of God.
“We therefore think it our most bounden Duty, to take immediately some effectual Method to extirpate this Abomination from among us; And for that Purpose we add the following to the Rules of our Society: viz.
“1. Every Member of our Society who has Slaves in his Possession, shall within twelve Months after Notice given to him by the Assistant (which Notice the Assistants are required immediately and without any Delay to give in their respective Circuits) legally execute and record an Instrument, whereby he emancipates and sets free every Slave in his Possession who is between the Ages of Forty and Forty-five immediately, or at the farthest when they arrive at the Age of Forty-five:
“And every Slave who is between the Ages of Twenty-five and Forty immediately, or at farthest at the Expiration of five Years from the Date of the said Instrument:
“And every Slave who is between the Ages of Twenty and Twenty-five immediately, or at farthest when they arrive at the Age of Thirty:
“And every Slave under the Age of Twenty, as soon as they arrive at the Age of Twenty-five at farthest.
“And every Infant born in Slavery after the above-mentioned Rules are complied with, immediately on its Birth.
“2. Every Assistant shall keep a Journal, in which he shall regularly minute down the Names and Ages of all the Slaves belonging to all the Masters in his respective Circuit, and also the Date of every Instrument executed and recorded for the Manumission of the Slaves, with the Name of the Court, Book and Folio, in which the said Instruments respectively shall have been recorded: Which Journal shall be handed down in each Circuit to the succeeding Assistants.
“3. In Consideration that these Rules form a new Term of Communion, every Person concerned, who will not comply with them, shall have Liberty quietly to withdraw himself from our Society within the twelve Months succeeding the Notice given as aforesaid: Otherwise the Assistant shall exclude him in the Society.
“4. No person so voluntarily withdrawn, or so excluded, shall ever partake of the Supper of the Lord with the Methodists, till he complies with the above-Requisitions.
“No Person holding Slaves shall, in future, be admitted into Society or to the Lord’s Supper, till he previously complies with these Rules concerning Slavery.
“N. B. These Rules are to affect the Members of our Society no farther than as they are consistent with the Laws of the States in which they reside.
“And respecting our Brethren in Virginia that are concerned, and after due Consideration of their peculiar Circumstances, we allow them two Years from the Notice given, to consider the Expedience of Compliance or Non-Compliance with these Rules.
“Q. 43. What shall be done with those who buy or sell Slaves, or give them away?
“A. They are immediately to be expelled: unless they buy them on purpose to free them.”766
In the first week in May, Coke records that —
“A great many principal friends met us here to insist on a Repeal of the Slave-Rules; but when they found that we had thoughts of withdrawing ourselves entirely from the Circuit on account of the violent spirit of some leading men, they drew in their horns, and sent us a very humble letter, intreating that Preachers might be appointed for their Circuit . . . . After mature consideration we formed a petition, a copy of which was given to every Preacher, intreating the General Assembly of Virginia, to pass a Law for the immediate or gradual emanicipation of all the Slaves. It is to be signed by all the Freeholders we can procure, and those I believe will not be few. There have been many debates already on the subject in the Assembly.”767
Nor was slavery his only cause for annoyance. On the fifteenth of May he preached to a large congregation, and says: —
“During the sermon, after I had spoken very pointedly concerning the impropriety of going in and out during divine service, two dressy girls walked out with such an impudent air, that I rebuked them keenly. After the public service, whilst I was administering the sacrament, baptizing, and meeting the Society, their father who is a Colonel, raged at the outside of the Church, declaring that as soon as I came out, he would horse-whip me for the indignity shewn to his family. But his two brothers (all unawakened) took my part, and insisted that I had done my duty, and the young ladies deserved it. However, finding that our preaching in that Church, which we do regularly, chiefly depends upon him, I wrote a letter of apology to him as far as the truth would permit, when I came to my lodging. We had a good time during the sermon and the Sacrament. But when I enlarged to the Society on Negro-Slavery, the principal leader raged like a lion, and desired to withdraw from the Society. I took him at his word, and appointed that excellent man (Brother Skelton) Leader in his stead. When the Society came out of the Church, they surrounded Brother Skelton, ‘And will you,’ said they, ‘Set your Slaves at liberty?’ (He has many Slaves) ‘Yes,’ says he, ‘I believe I shall.’”768
On the twenty-fifth of May he met at Alexandria “that dear, valuable man, Mr. Asbury;” and on the twenty-sixth their visit to Mount Vernon took place. He writes: —
“Mr. Asbury and I set off for General Washington’s. We were engaged to dine there the day before. The General’s Seat is very elegant, built upon the great river Potomawk; for the improvement of the navigation of which, he is carrying on jointly with the State some amazing Plans. He received us very politely, and was very open to access. He is quite the plain, Country-Gentleman. After dinner we desired a private interview, and opened to him the grand business on which we came, presenting to him our petition for the emancipation of the Negroes, and intreating his signature, if the eminence of his station did not deem it inexpedient for him to sign any petition. He informed us that he was of our sentiments, and had signified his thoughts on the subject to most of the great men of the State: that he did not see it proper to sign the petition, but if the Assembly took it into consideration, would signify his sentiments to the Assembly by a letter. He asked us to spend the evening and lodge at his house, but our engagements at Annapolis the following day would not admit of it. We returned that evening to Alexandria.”769
His experience had taught him caution, and at a conference held 1 June at Baltimore, —
“We thought it prudent to suspend the minute concerning Slavery, on account of the great opposition that had been given it, our work being in too infantile a state to push things to extremity.”770
Coke returned to England the same month, and though later he made frequent visits to this country and to the West Indies, he does not seem again to have visited Mount Vernon.771
In connection with Dr. Coke’s characterization of Washington as “quite the plain, Country-Gentleman,” it is pertinent to quote an extract from a letter which our associate Mr. Ford has just placed in my hands. It is dated Philadelphia, 25 December, 1783, shortly after Washington had taken his departure, and is interesting as having been written to Elias Boudinot by that arch-enemy of Washington, Dr. Benjamin Rush. It is as follows: —
“Our beloved Gen Washington left us a few days ago after receiving a thousand marks of respect & affection from all classes of people. In his way to Baltimore he was caught in a shower of rain, & sought a shelter from it in the common stage waggon. When the waggon came to a tavern, the tavern keeper, who knew him, received him with the greatest respect, & offered to prepare a dinner for him & his aids in a separate room. ‘No — no,’ said the General, ‘It is customary for travellers in this waggon to dine together. — I will dine nowhere but in this common room with these my fellow passengers,’ & accordingly sat down & ate his dinner like any other Virginia planter with them. This act throws a greater lustre over his character than all his victories. It shows him to be a man — a citizen — & a philosopher. His victories can only denominate him a General.”772
Allusions to this early attempt to abolish slavery in Virginia appear to be rare, but we can trace out the result from other sources of information. On Tuesday, 8 November, 1785, there was presented and read, in the Virginia House of Deputies, —
“Also, a petition of sundry persons, whose names are thereunto subscribed; setting forth, that they are firmly persuaded, that it is contrary to the fundamental principles of the christian religion, to keep so considerable a number of our fellow creatures, the negroes in this State, in slavery; that it is also an express violation of the principles upon which our government is founded; and that a general emancipation of them, under certain restrictions, would greatly contribute to strengthen it, by attaching them by the ties of interest and gratitude, to its support; and praying that an act may pass to that effect.
“Also, a petition of sundry inhabitants of the county of Mecklenburg, whose names are thereunto subscribed, in opposition thereto; and praying that the act, ‘empowering the owners of slaves to emancipate them;’ may be repealed.
“Ordered, That the said petitions do severally lie on the table.”773
“On a motion made, The House proceeded to consider the petition of sundry persons presented on Tuesday last, which lay on the table, praying for a general emancipation of slaves, and the same being read:
“A motion was made, and the question being put, to reject the said petition,
“It passed in the affirmative, nemine contra dicente.
“Resolved, That the said petition be rejected.”774
These entries show the fate of the petition. From Madison we get something more than the bare details. Writing to Washington 11 November, 1785, he says: —
“The pulse of the House of Delegates was felt on Thursday with regard to a general manumission, by a petition presented on that subject. It was rejected without dissent, but not without an avowed patronage of its principles by sundry respectable members. A motion was made to throw it under the table, which was treated with as much indignation on one side as the petition itself was on the other. There are several petitions before the House against any step towards freeing the Slaves, and even praying for a repeal of the law which licenses particular manumissions.”775
Again, writing 22 January, 1786, to Jefferson, then in France, Madison says: —
“Several petitions (from Methodists chiefly) appeared in favor of a gradual abolition of slavery, and several from another quarter for a repeal of the law which licenses private manumissions. The former was not thrown under the table, but was treated with all the indignity short of it. A proposition for bringing in a bill conformably to the latter was decided in the affirmative by the casting vote of the Speaker; but the bill was thrown out on the first reading by a considerable majority.”776
Finally, from Jefferson himself we get light as to the cause of the failure of the petition. Under date of 22 June, 1786, he says: —
“Of the two commissioners who had concerted the amendatory clause for the gradual emancipation of slaves Mr. Wythe could not be present as being a member of the judiciary department, and Mr. Jefferson was absent on the legation to France. But there wanted not in that assembly men of virtue enough to propose, & talents to vindicate this clause. But they saw that the moment of doing it with success was not yet arrived, and that an unsuccessful effort, as too often happens, would only rivet still closer the chains of bondage, and retard the moment of delivery to this oppressed description of men.”777
Jefferson concludes with one of those vigorous denunciations of slavery to which he so often gave vent.
Mr. Andrew McFarland Davis communicated a copy of a curious document relating to the Rhode Island Land Bank which is believed to have been written by Dr. William Douglass.778
Moses Coit Tyler, LL.D., of Ithaca, New York, was elected a Corresponding Member.